Lost Interview with Zvezda Game Designer Konstantin Krivenko Who Passed Away in 2014
(Konstantin Krivenko passed away in July of 2014. This is an interview conducted in 2012.)
Rick Martin: First of all, I am a fan of World War II games and a huge fan of Samurai movies and literature, so let me say thank you for designing these fascinating games. Please tell us about Zvezda. American gamers may not be too familiar with this company.
Konstantin Krivenko: The history of our company started more than 20 years ago with plastic models, and “Zvezda” is now a leading manufacturer of plastic model kits and at the same time one of the largest board game publishers in Russia. Our products are represented by official distributors in more than 50 countries. Today our product range contains more than 350 items, including over 80 board games. We have achieved world-wide success and recognition in the hobby segment of the business.
RM: Tell us a little about your background as a game designer.
KK: My job is completely different. I’m a founder, co-owner, and Managing Director of Zvezda. Since my childhood I have played a lot of different wargames. Some of them were really cool! But I was never completely satisfied with any of them. Some are too simple, even primitive, some are too complicated, too long, and too detailed. And most of them had terrible miniatures, or just a pieces of cardboard as combat units. The point which was always annoying me is the turn system. It is so far away from reality, when the player has to wait for his opponent to take his turn, and then start his own actions. Can you imagine that in a real combat? By the way, I have military experience as a captain of the Soviet Army in the 80’s. Finally, I had the idea to make a game which would correspond with my own wishes. My position as the Managing director of Zvezda gave me a great advantage to have nice miniatures and figures in my game. So I made this game system first of all for myself!
RM: Are there any differences between the gaming preferences of Russian wargamers and those of American wargamers?
KK: The difference is in degree of popularity of wargames and general development of the wargaming community. In Russia, wargames are not yet as popular as in America and the Russian wargaming community is much less developed than the American. Therefore, in America there are wargamers of almost any age (and wargames for all) whereas in Russia the vast majority of people interested in wargames are between 25 and 50 years old, and a new generation of wargamers (roughly between 15 and 25 years) form their own group.
RM: What sort of challenges did you encounter in designing the World War II Barbarossa 1941 game and the Art of Tactics game system?
KK: The greatest challenge, let’s call it No.1, was (and still is) the balance between realism and the restrictions of a board game. It’s very difficult to show all possibilities of the unit with just a few numbers and icons on its card. I hope it was done in the AoT game not too bad.
Challenge No.2 was how to realize the idea of simultaneous play (real-time combat). You can’t imagine how many different versions we tried! Finally the system of laminated cards and white-board markers was created.
Challenge No. 3 is the usual for any game design: how to make rules easier and more understandable. I tried to leave just a basic rules in the Roolebook and to have all specific abilities and orders of each unit at the unit’s laminated card. I hope it works.
Challenge No. 4: How to make game expandable and which units to include in the starter box.
Challenge No. 5: The price. As a game designer I want everything to be included in the starter box, as a businessman I need to have a reasonable price for the product. Very hard to find a balance! Just having additional mini-kits really helps solve the problem.
RM: How did you get interested in designing the Samurai Battles game? Please tell us a little about how you adapted the Art of Tactics system to the combat styles that were prevalent in 15th to 18th century Japan.
KK: The samurai subject is personally very interesting for myself (I’m a great fan of the Total War computer game series) and a lot of our customers were asking for new samurai sets (as model kits). That’s why this idea became a project for Zvezda.
The adaptation of AoT system to the Samurai subject was very easy because the units of WW II have much more variation in abilities, order types, and target types compared to samurai warriors. Off course, there are some unique orders and abilities, but in general it was easy. By the way, the most difficult task will be to adopt the AoT system to modern (alternative history) warfare, which will be realized in early 2013 as the “Hot War” game system.
RM: Can we look forward to future releases to expand the World War II and Samurai Battles games, or perhaps some packs of additional terrain?
KK: Very soon we will release a new WWII starter set: Blitzkrieg 1940. With this release we will start covering the war on the Western Front. First of all, there will be a completely new army—namely, the British army with all types of troops—infantry, artillery, vehicles, tanks, and aviation. Also, a new German infantry will appear, as well as other new units for WWII—and for Samurai battles, too. In the future, we plan to release other WWII armies: the US and Japanese armies, among others. We also plan to release expansion sets for Samurai battles. One of them will feature the siege of a samurai fortress.
RM: What other projects can we look forward to, both from you and from Zvezda?
KK: We also plan to release several new games based on the Art of Tactic system. One of them will be The Ships, where players will command Renaissance-era warships—English seadogs against Spaniards. Naval battles will take place on hexagonal boards, as in other Art of Tactic games. The basics of the game system will remain same: first players give all orders, and then the orders are simultaneously carried out. Another game will be called Hot war. It will be based on an alternative-history scenario of events of the end of the 20th century and will feature a conflict between US and Soviet troops.
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